Politics, government and public life for Southern California

CA takes first step in appeal of prison population cap ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court

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California officials on Monday appealed a federal court’s decision to uphold a cap of the state’s prison population that must be met by the end of the year. 

In January, attorneys for the state asked the three-judge panel, which in 2009 ordered the reduction of inmates, to reconsider whether such a cap was still necessary, given a dramatic population drop in the state’s 33 prisons and improvements to inmates' medical and mental healthcare.

The judges had ordered the state to reduce the prison population by 40,000 inmates after they found that overcrowding in the prisons was the main reason inmates suffered, and sometimes died from, a lack of treatment.

Last month, the court rejected the state’s appeal to vacate the order, and ordered officials to shed 10,000 inmates by the end of the year or face being held in contempt.

Deborah Hoffman of California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Monday the state has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court because the panel of federal judges “did not fully or fairly consider the evidence that with our greatly reduced prison population, prison health care now exceeds constitutional standards.”

In 2011, the legislature enacted California’s Criminal Justice Realignment law, which diverts lower level felons to the counties.  Today the prisons hold 30,000 fewer inmates than they did when the federal judges ordered the state to reduce the prison population.

Monday’s filing is a notice of appeal to the district court stating California’s intention to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.  It’s the first step in an appeals process that could take years — if the nation’s highest court decides to take up the case.

The Supreme Court rejected California's first appeal of the prisoner reduction order in 2011.






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